With all the analytics tools that are available nowadays, you can slice and dice all the data and metrics to death and still feel confounded when it comes time to write content that’d truly resonate with your ideal audience.
As a solo practitioner or small business owner, you’re not leveraging your advantage if you fight the “big guys” on the turf where they have a team of analysts pouring over metrics and data and a content factory pumping out stuff every single day.
Your asset is YOU – with a unique combination of personality, convictions and points-of-view applied through the lens of knowledge in your area of expertise to create a resonance more than the “thing” you deliver and a transformation in your clients at a deeper level.
Your empathy is your secret weapon.
It gives you the humanity to generate insights that no research and data can provide.
To bring the magic back into content creation, I’ll show you how to layer your personality and the gift of empathy over some essential components of content marketing best practices to make writing for your business meaningful again:
1. Customer Journey
The less fancy way to say this is, what are the steps people go through before they become your clients?
Don’t make it about squeezing your potential clients through a “funnel” with 37 permutations that make everybody’s head spin… just so you can look “smart.”
A real-life customer journey is not linear or clinical. There’re a lot of emotions involved, and it’s not always rational.
As the word “journey” implies, it has the potential to be a story of transformation. It’s way more than a step-by-step instructional manual.
Aim your content above and beyond the same old “provide valuable and relevant information” to address these questions:
What’s your ideal clients’ story?
What’s their hero’s journey?
What are they thinking, feeling and doing at each stage? What do they need to know – about you, the subject matter and themselves – in order to proceed to the “next level” and get closer to engaging with your services?
Who do you want to be for them at each step of the way? Which aspects of your personality and convictions would they most resonate with at each stage?
2. Buyer Persona
If you’ve taken any marketing program or training, you probably have a few dry as cardboard “ideal client profiles” collecting dust somewhere on your hard drive.
Just filling out a series of questions and creating an avatar can only take you so far. When you pull out one of those profiles and read it, does it feel like a real person to you? Or does it sound like a poorly written TV character that’s so two-dimensional that you don’t really believe she exists in real life?
Work needs to be done to connect the dots and make this persona meaningful to you:
Your buyer persona shouldn’t be frozen in time… the way she reacts to your communications changes as she goes through the customer journey (and hopefully your content is already creating transformation in her life along the way.)
After you’ve identified this persona, go back to your customer journey and imagine how she’d react and what she’d need to know in order to deepen her connection with you.
This is an organic process.
This persona evolves as she goes through the customer journey (which could also be her hero’s journey) – each piece of content that addresses a particular stage should speak to the psychology of that persona at that point in time, and take her to the next step.
When I write copy for my clients, I like to pretend I’m their potential clients and we role-play a dialogue to uncover the kind of content we need for a piece of copy to be effective.
Most training teaches us to give that persona a name… Aggressive Abe, Boring Boris, Catty Cathy.
Recently I read an article (unfortunately I wasn’t able to locate it for this post) that questioned such practice.
The gist is, when we name an avatar, it introduces cultural and societal preconceptions. (This, in and of itself, is a very interesting topic to unpack.)
IMHO, the best content appeals to a larger context – certain universal inkling, beliefs and identities that transcend simply finding the pain and twisting the knife.
When you “see” this persona in your mind’s eye, try to connect with her at a level that transcends the “here and now” – the limitation of an individual experience – to encompass that something bigger. You’d take her from a “problem solving” mindset to an “aspirational” mindset.
3. Keyword Research
Keyword is not the only thing that drives SEO.
Instead of seeing keywords as a means to ranking high on Google, use them as a tool to peek into your ideal audience’s world so you can show up in front of them, grab their attention and take them on that journey you have crafted for them.
Keywords are the window to how your ideal readers describe their world. Reflect it back to them, and you build resonance.
Keywords can help you understand your ideal audience and inform your initial content direction so you can catch them and draw them in – your content is worth zero if nobody is reading it.
A good understanding of keywords adds layers to your customer journey. By understanding how your people talk about what they want and what they need to solve at each stage, you can add more depth to the persona and weave a story around their experience to create a deeper connection.
Pay attention to the nuances – why do they use a particular word? What does it mean to phrase their problems in a certain way… does it emphasize some specific beliefs or preferences?
If you can make keyword research more than a mechanical execution, you may be surprised by the insights you can gain about your audience.
4. Content Calendar, Or Not
I haven’t been able to successfully stick to a content calendar. I tried it. And two weeks down the road it got tossed out the window because it felt too rigid for the way I get inspired and create.
Yet we do want to make sure your content marketing effort is serving your business and helping you achieve your goals.
Is there a happy medium?
When you design a marketing campaign or plan out a series of marketing activities, you can map out a content creation plan to support your goal.
Who’s your primary audience for that campaign and where are they in the customer journey? E.g. for a list building campaign, you’re probably speaking to people at the early stage of their journey. On the contrary, if you’re selling an advanced training, you’d likely to be targeting someone further down that path.
Then think about your persona and how she’d act, think and feel at that stage. What would make her click through to read your content (= mapping the keyword)? What does she need to know to take action? (= reflecting the insights you get when you answer the questions in #1 above.)
Your content will be that much more effective if you map it to the goal of each marketing campaign, the stage of customer journey it’s addressing and the psychology of the readers at that particular stage of transformation.